A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Supreme Court this week: To hear pension bill in Sept.; reverses L’ville election; hears right to work

Kentucky Today

The Kentucky Supreme Court acted quickly Friday to accept the direct appeal of a Franklin Circuit Court ruling on the public pension reform bill passed by the 2018 General Assembly and scheduled the case to be heard in September.

Earlier in the day, Gov. Matt Bevin’s general counsel filed a notice of appeal of a ruling by Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd that declared the pension reform bill unconstitutional.

“It is essential that Kentucky’s public servants receive a speedy and final resolution regarding the legality of pension reform legislation,” said M. Stephen Pitt, noting it was important for it to go directly to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Pitts said the state’s pension system is already close to collapsing.

“Without the reforms in Senate Bill 151, the system will continue to decline and remain the worst-funded in the nation,” he said. “They must be decided by our state’s highest court and not based on the highly suspect ruling of a single judge.”

Justices listened to arguments in the Kentucky Supreme Court. (Kentucky Today/Tom Latek)

The pension bill was originally a sewage bill, which was amended, heard in a House committee and passed by both the House and Senate within a matter of a few hours.

Attorney General Andy Beshear, who filed suit against the legislation shortly after it was signed into law by Gov. Bevin, agreed the case should be transferred to the Supreme Court. He also noted the governor’s attorneys waited until the afternoon of the final day an appeal could be filed.

The justices ordered the case to be heard at 10 a.m. on Sept. 20, with 20 minutes allocated to both sides. They also set an accelerated schedule for filing briefs in the case and must keep initial written briefs to 100 pages.

Pitt said it was imperative that the Supreme Court “resolve the legislative process issues on which the circuit court based its decision so that the General Assembly has every tool at its disposal to advance important legislative priorities.”

Reverses lower court on Louisville judicial race

The Kentucky Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s ruling in a Louisville judicial race.

Danny Alvarez, the winner of the May primary in the Jefferson District Court race, died the day after the election. He would have been in a runoff election against Tanisha Hickerson, who was second, in the race for the Jefferson District Court seat.

Karen E. Faulkner was third, only 17 votes behind, and sued to be put on the ballot in the November general election against Hickerson.

The State Board of Elections said since Alvarez died after the election, there was no provision in the law for the second- and third-place finishers to move up, so only Hickerson’s name would appear on the ballot. 
Faulkner’s suit was upheld by Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd.

Just a few hours after hearing the case, Chief Justice John D. Minton issued a brief order Friday afternoon stating the case was reversed and vacated and that Faulkner’s name will not appear on the November ballot.

Minton said since there was an Aug. 27 deadline to certify the candidates, preparing a full opinion was not possible at this time but will be forthcoming.

Hears arguments on right to work

Attorneys for Gov. Matt Bevin defended the state’s right to work law that has been credited with major job expansions.

That law, passed during the first week of the 2017 General Assembly, would allow employees to work at a union company without having to pay union fees and dues, which supporters said would encourage job growth and leave workers more take-home pay.

Opponents, meanwhile, said the law would lead to lower wages.

Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate dismissed a lawsuit challenging the law. In that lawsuit, plaintiffs claimed it violated eight sections of the constitution. Both sides agreed to have the case move directly to the Supreme Court.

In his opening remarks, attorney Irwin Cutler, representing the unions and workers who filed the suit, called the law “an effort to destroy unions.”

“Unions have provided a pathway to the middle class,” Cutler told the justices.

“They did it organizing under the National Labor Relations Act since 1935, in order to represent all the workers.”

He also maintained the law passed as “special legislation” benefitting a few people while harming many others, which is banned by the Kentucky Constitution.

Chad Meredith, one of Gov. Matt Bevin’s attorneys, said it wasn’t special legislation. In fact, he said, Kentucky has lots of laws that only affect doctors, lawyers, and other professions.

Craig T. Bouchard, head of a company that’s building a $1.5 billion aluminum mill in northeastern Kentucky, said passage of the right to work law is what convinced him to move to Kentucky.

Braidy Industries broke ground on the mill two months ago.

“There are one and a half billion reasons to support the bill,” Bouchard said.

The justices gave no indication on when they might hand down a ruling.

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